While our previous post listed plenty of concerns that many shares, we felt it was incomplete and wanted to add our thoughts specifically regarding (1) FGLI and (2) immunocompromised members of our community. This article addresses those concerns.
Two nights ago, I saw a tweet that Amherst was shutting down campus to decrease the risk of spreading COVID-19 to other students, faculty, and staff. They made the calculation that since students would be traveling off-campus during spring break –– despite being encouraged not to –– it would be incredibly difficult to contain the virus on campus. The following morning, Harvard followed suit due to the same concerns.
When I saw these announcements over Twitter, the first thing I thought was, Fuck, how am I going to finish my work-study? I calculated how much I would have earned for the rest of the semester and felt my heart drop. As a second-semester senior, I took on extra hours this semester, working 4 jobs to earn extra money to pay off my loans post-grad. But, the next thought I had was, Fuck, senior year might end early. I texted my friends, upset about the possibility of missing out on my last quarter at Wesleyan. I thought of the things I still have to do on campus: popping champagne on the steps of Olin, enjoying the sunset on Foss, giving my last tour, stressing about finals in SciLi, commencement. The list goes on.
While I do acknowledge that some of the responses to COVID-19 are unnecessary, there are some real, valid concerns that need to be addressed regarding keeping campus open. Yesterday, Wesleying published an article in haste that only spoke to one side of campus––the ones who are afraid of what the rest of the semester might hold. The thing is, this is an extremely complex issue. You, I, the Wes community, can be sad about the possibility of campus closing while also acknowledging the gravity of the situation. We do not have to operate in a binary that either: (1) Wesleyan will shut its doors to all students and not provide resources to those who rely on campus for income, housing, and food or (2) Open campus and pretend that everything is normal.
There have been countless articles that have attempted to explain possible solutions for colleges to mitigate the risk of COVID-19. Some of them call for a complete shut-down of schools to avoid a cruise-ship-like spread of the virus. There are some that say the opposite, arguing that college students are a low-risk population. While I would love to be an idealist and argue that the latter is true, we have forgotten that Wesleyan is not just college-aged students. There are elderly, immunocompromised faculty who will be at-risk if students return to campus. There are staff members who are concerned about the health of their families. There are Middletown community members who will be at risk if the entire student body returns to campus. Not to mention, parts of a student body who, despite Dean Whaley’s continued discouragement, traveled abroad to at-risk counties. The point of (partially) closing campus is to “flatten the curve” and ensure that hospitals have enough resources to treat those in need. This is the reality that we need to face, and instead of arguing in binaries, we should, instead, ally around the students who will be most affected by a potential closure.
Here are some potential solutions that live in the intermediary space between those two binaries:
- Transition classes to online instruction, with a focus on faculty who are elderly, immunocompromised, or have family members who are at risk if the faculty member were to contract the virus. The University should closely monitor the spread of the coronavirus, and offer to transition back to campus when the virus has been contained, as Yale has outlined.
- For students who are already off-campus and cannot return to move out, moving services should be offered to help students move their belongings.
For low-income students:
- Campus should open for students who need it most, with individual need evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
- If dining halls were to close for the safety of dining staff, stipends should be offered to low-income students to allow them to buy groceries and transportation should be provided to stores in the area.
- For low-income students who are already home and cannot return to campus, the University should ensure that their work-study allotments will be honored. Students who have already, or are about to, exhaust their work-study allotment should be compensated according to their previous paychecks to estimate how much they would have made on campus.
- If not possible, full or partial loan forgiveness should be offered to low-income graduating seniors.
- Full or partial subsidies should be offered to low-income students to support their travels back home.
- Subsidies for storage units should be provided to offset the cost of the semester.
- Students who are off-campus should receive stipends to help with unexpected costs associated with supporting their families.
- If students are unable to remain on campus, partial or full reimbursement for housing costs should be offered, especially to low-income students.
- Ensuring that students who rely on university/Husky health care will be supported throughout this transition.
- Ensure that there will be student employment for students needing to stay on campus.
For graduating seniors:
- Support for theses writers who need to be on campus to finish their theses. Students should be given the opportunity to remain on campus to finish their thesis work if campus resources are necessary for the completion of their projects. During this time, students would continue to receive online education. Advisors can meet with students in-person if they are willing and able.
- Direct advising to help students who will not reach graduation requirements due to severe circumstances.
- In the case that students will have to withdraw from courses due to the inability to have the course online, provisions to ensure that a “W” will not appear on their transcript OR provisions to ensure that possible withdrawals will not affect students’ ability to apply to graduate school/professional school/etc.
- Major advisors and department chairs should be ready to discuss potential exceptions to students in the case that the transition to online classes will affect the student’s ability to graduate with their major(s).
- A firm intention to work out R&C so that, in the case the virus is contained, students will have the opportunity to return to campus for senior week.
For international students:
- The OISA should be supporting and informing students about the implications of returning home and completing online coursework.
- Ensuring that students who need to return home will not lose their visas.
- Outlining implications of applying for OPT if they are taking online coursework.
- Support for students who cannot re-enter the country due to travel restrictions.
- Support renewing F1 visas for those who will be affected if they go home.
- Full or partial subsidies should be offered to students to support their travels back home who need financial assistance.
- If students are unable to return home due to travel restrictions, financial implications, or level-3 status, they should be given the opportunity to remain on campus.
- If campus cannot stay open, they should receive financial assistance while finding transition housing, if necessary.
- Subsidies for storage units should be provided to offset the cost of the semester for students who need financial assistance.
For faculty and staff (including non-academic staff):
- Continuing salaried pay for faculty and staff. This means providing PAID sick leave for staff members who will not be employed if campus does shut down. Their jobs MUST NOT be in jeopardy for taking days off to take care of themselves and/or their families.
- Immunocompromised faculty and staff should be given the necessary healthcare they need to not only protect themselves but to support them if they were to contract the virus.
Above all, we acknowledge that this is an incredibly complex and scary time. Steps should be taken to ensure the safety of the entire Wesleyan and Middletown community, but we must ensure that students are supported through this process.
Melisa Olgun ‘20
Chris Jackson ‘20
Benjamin Filio ‘22
Ricardo Vega ‘21